More than 12,000 Minnesota nurses begin contract negotiations


Saying their 12,000 members are committed to standing united in the coming months, Minnesota nurses formally began labor contract negotiations with six Twin Cities hospital systems on Tuesday. “The safety and quality of care for our patients is on the line,” said Minnesota Nurses Association President Linda Hamilton, who works as a registered nurse in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. “Nurses always have and always will be an outspoken advocate for the men, women and children of Minnesota who are put under our care. These negotiations are all about the bottom line. For nurses, that bottom line remains the same – patients before profits.”

The current labor contract between 12,000 Minnesota Nurses and six Twin Cities hospital systems (North Memorial, HealthEast, Allina, Methodist, Children’s and Fairview) expires on May 31. After several weeks of bargaining, nurses will vote on May 19 to either ratify the new contract or authorize a strike. The last time there was a large-scale RN strike in Minnesota was 1984, when 6,000 nurses walked off the job for 35 days. It remains the largest RN strike in U.S. history.

At the forefront of 2010 talks are two issues – RN staffing levels and the nurses’ pension fund, which has been in place since 1962.

“More than 72,000 people in this country needlessly die every year because hospitals don’t have enough nurses on staff,” Hamilton said, referencing a 2005 Medical Care Journal study. “The numbers don’t lie. If you don’t have enough nurses working, people are going to die when they don’t need to. So we’ll keep saying it until we’re blue in the face: Safe staffing saves lives.”

Pension bargaining between nurses and the hospital systems began during early March, and the hospitals have made it clear they want to cut the nurses’ pension funding by a third.

“First of all, our pension funding equals about one percent of these hospital systems’ annual revenue,” Hamilton said. “It’s a minimal expense. These hospitals aren’t going to be closing their doors in order to pay nurses the retirement benefits we’ve been earning for nearly five decades.”

The hospitals’ current proposal would put the nurses’ pension benefits back to 1968 levels, according to Hamilton.

“Gas cost 34 cents a gallon in 1968,” Hamilton said. “A new house cost around $15,000. To ask us to retire and support our families on a standard of living like that would require a time machine to pull off.

“Nurses are not greedy people. It’s not in our nature,” she continued. “We sign up to do what we do because we put the well-being of others ahead of ourselves. At the same time, we need to advocate for our families the same way we advocate for our patients. We need a livable pension plan to ensure that we can retire when we’re ready and that our spouses and children have the support they need from us.”

Minnesota nurses will hold a large rally for patient safety on March 27 at Hopkins High School as part of their united stance on the labor contract’s key issue.

“When it comes to the people of this great state, Minnesota nurses want everyone to know that we care,” Hamilton said. “We care for each and every patient we see. And we’ll keep fighting to ensure we’re allowed to do that to the very best of our ability and that your experience with us is as safe and comfortable as possible.”